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Significant Scots
William the Lion

WILLIAM, surnamed THE LION, one of the most distinguished of our early monarchs, was born in the year 1143. He was the second son of Henry, prince of Scotland, the son and heir-apparent of David I., but who predeceased his father in 1152. On the death of his son, David proclaimed his eldest grandson Malcolm as the heir of his Scottish dominions, and, destining William for a separate principality in Northumberland, caused the barons of that district to give him their promise of obedience, and took hostages for its performance. Malcolm accordingly succeeded David in 1153, as king of Scots, while William, then only ten years of age, became superior of the territory now constituting the northern counties of England.

In 1157, an agreement took place between Malcolm and Henry II. of England, by which Northumberland was ceded to the latter, who gave in return the earldom of Huntingdon; an exchange which produced great dissatisfaction in Scotland, and the utmost displeasure in the subject of this memoir. From this time Malcolm became unpopular in Scotland, and it is not improbable that William took advantage of the national prejudices to advance his own ambitious views. It is represented by the Scottish historians that, in 1164, the people obliged him to undertake the regency of the kingdom, while the king his brother gave himself up to religious meditation; a very decent description of what must have been little else than a usurpation. On the 28th December, 1165, Malcolm died, and William succeeded to the crown.

William, having repeatedly but vainly solicited the restitution of Northumberland from Henry II., at length joined in a confederacy with his son, the celebrated Coeur de Lion, for the purpose of dethroning that monarch; Richard not only assuring him of the territory he desired, but also granting the earldom of Cambridge to his younger brother David. In 1174, William served the purposes of this confederacy by an invasion of Northumberland, which he spoiled without mercy. He was prosecuting the siege of Alnwick with a small party, when a large body of Yorkshire horsemen came upon him unexpectedly. Though he had only sixty horse to present against four hundred, he gallantly charged the enemy, crying out, "Now we shall see who are true knights." He was unhorsed, disarmed, and made prisoner, while his companions, and some others who were not then present, submitted to the same fate, from a sentiment of duty. Henry did not make a generous use of this triumph. He caused the captive monarch to be brought into the presence of his court at Northampton, with his feet tied together under the belly of a horse, as if he had been a felon; and afterwards placed him in strict confinement in the castle of Falaise in Normandy. The Scots, towards the close of the year, recovered their monarch from captivity, but at the expense of a temporary surrender of their national independence. In terms of the treaty formed on this occasion, William was to do homage to the English king for the whole of his dominions; an object at which the latter had long unjustly aimed: and the castles of Roxburgh, Berwick, Jedburgh, Edinburgh, and Stirling, were surrendered as pledges on the part of the king of Scots, for the performance of his promise. The independence of the Scottish church was at the same time impignorated, but with certain cautious ambiguities of phrase that reflect great credit on the ingenuity of its dignitaries, who managed this part of the treaty. The claims of the English church over Scotland, however, disturbed several of the ensuing years of the reign of William, who, in resisting them, backed as they were by the pope and all his terrors, showed surprising fortitude and perseverance.

In 1189, Richard Coeur de Lion, having acceded to the throne, and considering that William of Scotland had forfeited his independence in consequence of an attachment to his own interest, restored it to him, along with the castles of Berwick and Roxburgh. Perhaps it was not altogether from a generous or conscientious motive that the king performed this act of justice. He was about to commence his celebrated crusade, and it might be apparent to him that the king of Scots was not a neighbour to be left dissatisfied: he also stipulated for ten thousand merks as the price of the favour he was granting to his brother monarch. The treaty, however, which these mingled notions had dictated, was the blessed means of preserving peace between the two countries for upwards of a century. When Richard was afterwards so unfortunate as to become a captive in a foreign land, William contributed two thousand merks towards his ransom. Such transactions afford a pleasing relief to the general strain of our early history.

After a long reign, of which the last thirty years appear to have been spent in tranquillity, and without the occurrence of any remarkable event, William died at Stirling, December 4, 1214, in the seventy-second year of his age, and the forty-ninth of his reign, leaving, by his wife, Ermingarde de Beaumont, one son, who succeeded him under the title of Alexander II. William also had six illegitimate children. He is allowed by historians to have been a vigorous and judicious prince, not exempt of course from the vices of his age, among which must be reckoned a rash valour, but adorned also by some of its virtues. William was the first Scottish sovereign who bore a coat armorial. He assumed the lion rampant upon his shield, and from this cause, it is supposed, he obtained the designation of William the Lion. A curious portrait of William has been preserved from time immemorial in the Trinity hospital at Aberdeen, and was lately engraved and published in the Transactions of the Antiquarian society of Scotland.

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